Don’t Try this at Home, Or Abroad Either

Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia's Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.
Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.

Cecil the lion was relatively famous, at least by lion standards, in life, but anti-trophy hunting sentiments have turned him into the most macabre sort of dead celebrity. Rumors are flying, but we do know that Dr. Walter Palmer paid roughly $54,000 for the ‘privilege’ of traveling to Zimbabwe and shooting a lion. It has been alleged that Dr. Palmer’s guides lured Cecil out of the Hwange National Park with bait so Dr. Palmer could shoot him with a crossbow. The Zimbabwean government is claiming that to do so was illegal and Dr. Palmer has responded by throwing his hunting guides under the safari jeep and claiming that he had counted on them to secure the necessary permits and make sure his hunt was conducted lawfully and that any illegal actions are their fault and not his.

The problem with this argument is that anybody who knows anything about Africa knows that Zimbabwe is hardly the land of law and order. Wildlife poaching is rampant (Wadhams 1-August-2007), hyperinflation has led to the complete collapse of the currency, and the government is notoriously corrupt and repressive and is headed by Robert Mugabe who feeds off his people like a vampire[1] and serves up his country’s endangered species at official banquets. Dr. Palmer’s excuse of “I trusted my guides to conduct the hunt legally” rings about as hollow the claim of “The pimps told me that the girls were over 18 and not trafficked” made by somebody caught with his pants down in a Bangkok brothel.

The inaccurately named "White Lady" (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.
The inaccurately named “White Lady” (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors temporarily more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.

It’s easy to condemn the behavior of scummy sex tourists and privileged poachers, and they certainly deserve it, but all travelers would do well to think on the sins we may have committed while abroad. Many of us from North America and Western Europe behave differently when in countries with different laws, laxer enforcement, or just where we think any bad reputation we acquire with the locals will not be able to follow us home. This can be seen in the behavior of surfers who will drive drunk in Ensenada, but never in Encinitas, backpackers who buy pieces of endangered species or ancient artifacts as curios, adventurers who trespass into sacred or ecologically sensitive sites, because apparently their desire to “really see” them outweighs the importance of any efforts to minimize impacts, and partiers who start yelling in the international language of drunks at 3am, because they’ve forgotten that not everybody in San Juan del Sur is on vacation.

While committing these misdeeds is less likely to land anyone in the middle of an international media feeding frenzy, that certainly doesn’t excuse them. It can be enjoyable cut a little loose when on vacation, but just because our actions abroad may be freed from legal consequences doesn’t mean that they’re also freed from ethical ones. I won’t even try to write a list of acceptable behavior for every travel situation, because I’m sure that there are many situations I can’t envision but I will suggest a change of attitude. Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers of experiences who use countries and move on, let’s see ourselves as guests in others’ homelands and behave as if we would like to be invited (not extradited) back.

References:

Wadhams. 1-August-2007. “Zimbabwe’s Wildlife Decimated by Economic Crisis”. National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070801-zimbabwe-animals.html

[1] It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if vampires were offended by this comparison.

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